Sabine Marcelis

From her marble lamps for Bloc Studios to the mirrors for Atelier Clerici, Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis always rises to the challenge by befriending the material and listening intently to its prompts. #MDW2017

Sabine Marcelis Bloc Studios
Highlighting a material’s properties is a balancing act and Sabine Marcelis, a young Dutch designer with major collaborations to her name, employs form, colour and light to achieve the result. The new element lies not in the tools but the quantities, which Sabine has learnt to gauge partly through experience and much thanks to her innate sensitivity. 
The pure lines of a block of marble are, for instance, traversed by luminous circles highlighting its veins, small traces narrating the sedimentation of time that become as legible as the human hand for a palm reader. This is what emerges from her Marble Matters project for Bloc Studios, resulting in the design of Voie Lights, a collection of three lamps that bring the magic of marble to life with the passage of a neon light. Every time, the challenge is to befriend the material and listen intently to its prompts. As too, when Marcelis works with glass, one of her favourite raw materials, which the designer always takes back to its original liquid state Her installation for Frame-Aesop is a clear example of this and once again light acts as a reagent, revealing the translucence and fluidity of glass. 


Domitilla Dardi: Glass features in many of your works. What is it about this material that attracts you?

Sabine Marcelis: I love both glass and resin, materials that originate in liquid form and then become solid but always retain the memory of that primordial liquidity. They are raw materials that you can try to control, playing on their sparkle or opaqueness. Generally, I am drawn to materials that have an “on-off” passage, a change, a transformation.  This enables me to highlight the fact that my objects always contain some life. One of my dissertation projects was a table featuring glass that could be transparent or opaque, depending on the occasion or time of day. It demonstrated that an object, although perhaps not kinetic, is constantly in flux. You simply have to observe how it reacts to its surrounding space and to natural or artificial light.

Domitilla Dardi: Indeed, the relationship between object, space and person is core to many of your works. I am thinking, for instance, of your mirrors and how they focus on refraction.

Sabine Marcelis: The mirror is seemingly a simple object but actually reveals itself when something happens. That is when a moment of wonder is generated, something unexpected that captures your attention. Up until that moment, it is a simple object but when you start moving in space, your interaction with it produces the surprise and something happens. I am fascinated by the generation of its dynamic with objects. 


Domitilla Dardi: Unlike many designers of your generation, you don’t seem strongly focused on the potential of technology but more on basic interaction. Why is this?

Sabine Marcelis: That’s true, I am not interested in adopting spectacular technology. I think we can be extremely efficacious with just two tools: light and glass or, rather, space and mirror. I believe it has much to do with the concept of limitations, a restrictive condition that sometime defines the project. This is what drives a project to give the best of itself.

Domitilla Dardi: What training path did you follow?

Sabine Marcelis: I was born in Holland and then emigrated with my parents to New Zealand. I lived all my teenage years there and, while at high school, devoted a great deal of time to snowboarding. It was my first true love! At the same time, I have always wanted to use my hands. I made small pieces of jewellery and handbags, which I sold in my parents’ flower shop. Then I returned to Holland where I gained a degree in Industrial Design and completed my studies in Eindhoven. My degree project was a home wine-making kit. I was intrigued by the fact that the wine-making process is so beautiful but the tools that make it possible are so ugly. I was fascinated by the transformation of the elements, the fermentation. Then, in 2012, I opened my own studio.

Domitilla Dardi: You have worked on several occasions recently with OMA and for Design Week 2016? you worked on the stand they designed for Knoll. How does this partnership work?

Sabine Marcelis: OMA gave me the opportunity to work on the Knoll project last year. I am not an architect and so not interested in creating the space as a whole but I love working with these expert architects and finding our own way of combining each one’s specific expertise in a sort of shared materials library. I also like working in a passing dimension to which I can contribute a small injection of my design vision without thinking it must last forever.


Domitilla Dardi: Would you rather work to commission or autonomously?

Sabine Marcelis: I received many private commissions after the shows at the Boijmans museum in Rotterdam and at Design Miami. They gave me an opportunity to get to know the houses, people and their collections and tastes, creating something very specific for each one. I don’t like designing objects that will go anywhere. On the contrary, I love responding to a context and a particular condition.

Domitilla Dardi: How important is functionality to you?

Sabine Marcelis: A design must, of course, be functional but the meaning of functional depends greatly on the reference market. When I think of the people I work with and for whom I design, I believe that the aesthetic is extremely functional and primary. I am interested in function based on the user experience but not industrial design. Function is also how objects relate to space, each other and their user. I believe it is important to know how objects are experienced.

Domitilla Dardi: You have not worked on industrial production scale yet. Is it a field that doesn’t appeal to you or is it that you simply haven’t met the right people?

Sabine Marcelis: I am not interested in mass production or working for industry. This is because, on the one hand, I don’t want to add to the number of things that already exist in a world that needs nothing more. On the other, I prefer to focus on just a few really special things. Producing large quantities of goods is an objective that many other designers can pursue far better than me. I need to take my time and so designing small series of special things is what suits me best.

Domitilla Dardi: What design fields would you like to work in?

Sabine Marcelis: I would like to design fashion accessories, limited editions of shoes and sunglasses. At the same time, the opportunity to work on a larger scale, such as the architectural one, has made me realise I would like to pursue the direction of installations. Perhaps working on theatre sets or for the music world, with artists or musicians. Generally speaking, I like working with people who are very talented in their field and learning a new approach to things from them. The great thing about working in a group where everyone has their own specific skills is that you can create greater things than each one could do alone. It isn’t just the sum of different forms of expertise but the production of something much bigger together. 

© all rights reserved

3–9 April 2017
Sabine Marcelis

Foyer Gorani, piazza Gorani 5/6
Marble Matters

Martina Gamboni, Piano attico (10th floor), via De Amicis 19
Clock. Light. Mirror. Deux mirrors

Atelier Clerici, Palazzo Clerici, via Clerici 5

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